Anyone who knows me and has spent any time on my website would agree that I advocate traveling with special needs family members. In fact, I wholeheartedly promote it as a great idea.
Through trial and error, I have navigated the travel industry and learned many valuable things over the years that have made going with a child with autism a pleasant experience for both the child and parents.
The success of the family vacation with an autistic child requires lots of planning. In fact, it is imperative.
Not only do you need to have a “Plan A”, but you also need a “Plan B” and even “C” at times.
Even regular getaways involve systematic, minute-by-minute detailed planning; nothing can be left to chance.
When you have individual needs added to the mix, you always need to take the “what if?” factor into consideration and build your itinerary around the worse case scenarios happening.
Lack of planning has led to many families experiencing unpleasant vacations and sadly, they end up avoiding travelling altogether.There are those who get stressed at the mere thought of successfully tackling so many factors. There are some who in the past inadequately planned and became despondent, and then there are those who travelled unaware of the needed planning so threw in the towel.
Realistically speaking, planning the itinerary for a family dealing with autism can take double or triple the amount of time and effort to organize in comparison to one for a typical family.
With that said, It is my firm belief that families with special -needs should not be excluded from travelling.
I believe that the key to solving many dilemmas lies mainly within the Travel Industry’s ability to aid and encourage families with autism to travel.
In fact, these proposed low-cost accommodation suggestions could prove if implemented, quite lucrative for the Travel Industry and beneficial for the growing segment of the population with autism and other special needs, in the long run.
Suggestions for States and Cities CVB
Since most states and towns have websites to inform tourists of the area’s history, attractions, activities, and lodging opportunities; adding a page for tips to help autistic families plan their vacation better should not be a problem.
This page should include necessary information that the visitor bureau staff can quickly assemble and can contain the following details:
- Restaurants that cater to special -needs and offer gluten-free or casein-free items on their menu.
- Attractions that incorporate hands-on, interactive and visual displays like museums, zoos, and aquariums, especially those that provide discounted rates for disabilities.
- Hotels that offer autism-friendly rooms and babysitting services so parents/caregivers can get much-needed respite.
- Local pharmacies for quick medication refills.
- Local grocery stores or supermarkets with their operating hours—especially if they are open 24/7 for families to purchase any needed supplies.
- Local pediatricians and dentists that have been trained to deal with special-needs children in case of emergency.
- Local vets for service dogs.
- Telephone numbers of local police staff trained to aid with autistic children wandering off.
- Lodging facility websites for hotels and cruise ships should include an added section with accommodation suggestions for travelers with autism describing the property’s quiet rooms away from streets, elevators, vending machines, and lounges as well as rooms far from any cooking venues for the smell-sensitive guests.
Moreover, the hotel or cruise line should advertise their ability to accommodate
- Patrons suffering from different allergies.
- Those who need hand-held shower attachments or anti-slip mats in the bathrooms.
- Families who need extra locks on room windows and doors to prevent accidental wandering
- Guests following GFCF diet guidelines.
- Kids with autism in Kid Clubs and or pools.
Proper transportation arrangements are of particular importance as they constitute the first step in most travel and can often foreshadow future mishaps.Airports, Airlines, bus companies, and train companies need to provide an informative web page on all possible accommodations available for the different sensory issues of the autistic travellers.
Accommodations may include
- Seats away from the excessive noise areas like wings, galleys and lavatories areas (strong smells) as well as the exit doors due to limited personal space and potential overcrowding.
- The options of pre-boarding and extra leg room seating for those autistic travelers with involuntary or repetitive body movements should be offered as an option by all transportation authorities.
- Families and Caregivers should always be seated next to the person with special needs!
Suggestions for Day Trips and Shore Excursion Operators
Companies should post detailed descriptions of the suggested itineraries on their page along with the main symbols to alert autistic travellers to the possibility of potential sensory problems like
- excessive noise
- strong smells
- dark areas
- strobe lights
- slippery terrain or stairs
- extended stays in extreme temperature conditions
- bathroom breaks
- food options
- the availability of places to regroup if necessary
- the seating arrangement of transportation like buses and ferries where parents should sit with their kids, preferably in front.
- walking or any other activity that exceeds 15 minutes at a time or requires closed toe shoes.
- Activities that necessitate wearing specialized equipment like masks or goggles.
By following these simple suggestions, companies would not only help families choose more activities but encourage new travelers to sample more day trips.